HUP TWO, MY ASS
by Louis Faber
He wondered why he allowed himself to be in this position. He knew that he didn't actually allow it, he courted it. But you could claim allowance when you chose the lesser, by far, of two evils. As a child, his mother always told him he was fragile, that he should avoid overly strenuous activities and drafts. With the Vietnam "conflict" waging, that was one time he thought his mother right, one draft to definitely avoid. So he enlisted in the Air Force. "Choose the devil you want to dance with, if you have to dance with the devil," a friend said. He didn't think it would be all that bad. Sure, he'd heard stories, but who didn't tell stories, other than him. He would learn. Lesson one was the large sign on the gate, "Welcome to Lackland Air Force Base, Gateway to the Air Force." Gateway to limbo was more like it, though it seemed a bit like hell.
They had been in line for what seemed like hours. In San Antonio in April, when the humidity is up, minutes seem like hours. They looked reasonably absurd, hair of all lengths and colors, a motley of pants, and all in the sickly yellow t-shirt with U.S. AIR FORCE across the chest. They entered the building in single file, emerged moments later as motley as ever but each and every one skin headed, courtesy of Lackland's finest barbers (though he doubted they had taken a single class in cosmetology). And they looked none the better for effort.
The one thing you could trust was that if you felt the least bit insulted by the Air Force, the injury that had to accompany it was just around the next corner. At least they knew he was coming, had the correct names on his uniforms. And the sort of fit. Save the combat boots. "We'll fix those tomorrow," Sgt. Leal bellowed, "just put the damn things on!" Then it was time for the ID Photo, and a string of "stop smiling, moron, just look at the camera." And magically, moments later, he had grown four inches. When he told Sgt. Leal he needed a new ID, Leal scowled, "No, dipshit, you need to grow four inches. Get on with it!"
He'd always been a night person. Uncle Sam cured him of that in about two days. 9 to 5 was once a working day he assumed. The Air Force taught him that it was a sleeping night. And the alarm wasn't a trumpet call like in the Boy Scouts. It was the bellowing of Sergeant Leal. Fifteen minutes later, they were showered, dressed in the uniform of the day, always the OD's, and in formation outside the dorm. Yes, dorm, although the same building across town at Fort Sam Houston was an old WWII era barracks. A short march later and they were at the chow hall, it was only amess in the Army and Marines, and with his daily dose of SOS (shit on a shingle) and a silent prayer for the pig so cruelly disposed of, then it was finally time to play soldier.
He remembered what it was like parading around in the Texas sun. You didn't use sunscreen, the asinine pith helmet was supposed to protect you. It simply made you look stupid, you thought, but one in a sea of stupid so you never felt out of place. The uniforms were that olive that seemed to cry out "witness the fool unable to avoid this drab outfit." They gathered sweat as would a sponge, but dried quickly enough since you would wear them again in two days, and they wouldn't be washed for a week. You looked forward to night, when a hint of coolness arrived, hopefully with sleep before the Drill Sergeant bellowed to greet another day in the Air Force's version of hell.
Far and away the worst duty in boot camp was kitchen work in the Visiting Officers Dining Rooms. KP was never fun, but usually it was dish out the slop that too often passed for meals, scrape plates and load the industrial dishwasher, avoid the mess sergeant or keep him happy and hide when you could. But the VODR was a whole different world. You had officers from countless countries who expected to be treated as invited guests who wanted what they wanted when the wanted it how they wanted it. And they dripped arrogance on a good day. It was never a good day in the Visiting Officers Dining Room.
He was still four inches short of his goal when he made the short hop from Lackland to Kelly, for his police training. He had be told that since he would be trained for the Security Forces, they would have to reissue his ID card. And this time there was an even chance they would get it right. He held out hope. His hope was misplaced, and when he was injured in a bar in downtown San Antonio while still in training, we accepted a transfer into the Air Force Reserves, with the stipulation that they wouldn't expect him to grow the missing four inches.
Be thankful you didn't join the army, was his sergeant's most common refrain. Sarge was a lifer, or at least trying to hang on until he could quit and never really work again. Wouldn't know how to do a real job, he said, and wouldn't want to have to learn. Nobody with half a mind joined the Army if they could get out of it. He saw that at his physical with all the probable draftees feigning this or that to duck service. Thing is, only real money bought your way out, and he wouldn't know that until years later, once the war was no more than a faint memory to most.
Things went as badly in Security training as he expected. On his first call, riding shotgun with two Security Forces officers, they responded to a bar fight downtown where a half dozen Air Force trainees decided to take on two Army Rangers. It wasn't pretty, less so when the last Airman standing decided to miss the Ranger with the padded chair he was swinging and struck him. He knew instantly his Security days were over. The Air Force agreed five weeks later, transferring him to the Reserves. "And with a bum wrist, we've got to change your assignment. You are now a Clerk-Typist."
That was the brilliance of the Air Force Personnel specialists. If you have a bad wrist, they make you a typist. As one why and he's likely to say, "But your index fingers still work, right?" They did, but the base doctor still said he wasn't fit to type, so it would be another day shuttling between the NCO club and the BX, with a stop for lunch down the road at the Pig and Whistle. Even there, the hot dogs had pork, but there was no shingle, so it was a major improvement over his nightmares of Lackland.
Once in the Reserves, the rest of his service became a game: he versus the Air Force. The Base doctor made it clear that he was not fit for typing, the wrist continuing to be a problem. So his job was to sit around and stay out of the way. But for most jobs in the Air Force you could train by reading and passing basic test of knowledge, not demonstrating any real skill. In short order this clerk typist who couldn't type (ironically though he could but for the injury) became a qualified Medical Clerk, Legal Clerk, Chaplains Assistant (a particularly useful AFSC on a base with no Chaplain, and a Loadmaster Apprentice. Any job you could learn from the books he did. He wouldn't dare do any of them. That was how the military always got into the messes it seemed to relish. But it kept his NCO and commanding officer happy, and if they were happy, well, you get the picture. But the wrist was no better, and eventually the base doctor, a pediatrician by training, decided it was time to get him help or get him out.
Then the fun really began. The wrist was still acting up so he went to the V.A. Hospital. And that began the next chapter in the Government That Couldn't Shoot Straight (although it could shoot itself in its foot with surprising accuracy). He filled out the paperwork. He waited. It was like he was back in the Air Force, the waiting, but no uniforms this time. Finally the letter. The Army has no record of your service. A phone call, a patient clerk, a "well that would explain it. I'll put it right through. I can get you an appointment Thursday in the Orthopedic Clinic. Don't tell anyone we fit you in." No one would believe it anyway. And two weeks after the clinic appointment, on his scheduled weekend duty, the base doctor called him in to his office. The Captain of his unit was there as well. He knew and smiled as he saw them. "The VA says you need surgery and they have a doc who can do it. Problem is they can operate on those still in the Air Force, so you are being discharged. Honorably, of course. We'll have the paperwork ready by Sunday, so hit the Base Exchange (such as it is) one last time, you will be a Veteran by Monday."
Bio: Louis Faber's work has previously appeared in Atlanta Review, Arena Magazine (Australia), Exquisite Corpse, Rattle, Eureka Literary Magazine, Borderlands: the Texas Poetry Review, Midnight Mind, Pearl, Midstream, European Judaism, Greens Magazine, The Amethyst Review, Afterthoughts, The South Carolina Review and Worcester Review, among many others, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
“…BUT YOU CAN CALL ME- JOHN”
by John Richmond
He hated waiting in doctor’s offices, and today would be no different. Increasingly, the wait got long and he was getting impatient. So much so that he decided to employ one of his old strategies.
He began by alternating the nature of his “wait,” not just between sitting and standing, but by going out into the hall and walking back and forth. He reasoned that by doing so, he might become something short of a nuisance, and, as such, they’d move him up in the queue just to get rid of him. But, this time, just the opposite happened- they ignored him. Staff member after staff member passed him by with nary an ever-so-slight nod of recognition.
In addition, as he endured the proverbial ‘slings and arrows’- the latter shot not from an ordinary bow, but by a seriously more injurious cross-bow- he watched patient after patient get called into an exam room.
All of them arrived after he took his seat, though the strains of his infectious resentment were- however slightly- abated by his understanding that he had arrived early- at 8:45 AM- for his 9:20 AM appointment. Still, it was bothersome.
Then, at 9:27AM, after waiting with trying patience, it was down to just him and some middle-aged woman. The seconds passed laboriously, and instinctively he knew that it was shaping up to be a showdown, between them, when- by almost miraculous intervention- the woman rose from her seat and walked toward the hall.
“Is she leaving?” he asked himself. “Maybe she’s fed up with the waiting? Or- maybe- she just has to go to the bathroom?”
He watched the woman reach the threshold of the waiting room, cross into the hall and pause. She looked left, then right, then left, again, before walking off, disappearing to the left.
“Great!” he told himself. “Even if she is next, if she’s not here, then I’m-“
He was right on the verge of finishing his thought when a tech appeared in the doorway and said, simply- “Deb?”
Sensing the grand moment of situational historical opportunity, he looked up at her, raised his hand and with great ease and fluidity, said- “That’s me.”
As he acknowledged her call, he realized that she would probably become immediately skeptical upon hearing it, which she was.
“You’re Deb?” she asked quizzically.
On that cue, he stood, straightened his coat and took a step toward her.
“That’s right,” he replied, “but you can call me, John.”
The aide looked down at her file, and, then, back at him, not once, but twice.
“It says here,” she began, slowly, yet in a scrutinizing way, “that your name is Deborah.”
He nodded, knowingly and with an ultimate self-assuredness.
“Yes,” he said through a sigh that was intended to convey the sense that he was no stranger to exactly this kind of situation, that he had been this way before.
“I know it seems perplexing,” he continued, while now preparing to ‘spring at’ his real goal, “but you see, my parents named me Deb, then called me John, so that when it was my turn to do things like see a dentist- or a doctor- there wouldn’t be any confusion.”
He paused so as to allow- what he believed to be- the unassailability of his logic to sink into her mind.
“Anyway,” he resumed, “my name’s Deb, they called me John and I’m ready to go back and be seen.”
The aide hesitated, not because she didn’t believe him- which she tried very hard to do- but because she was intrigued- and, more so, “taken”- by how it had happened to him.
Lowering the chart to her side, she leaned back against the wall and asked- “Why did they name you, Deb?”
He understood clearly and immediately that the time spent asking and answering the question might seriously jeopardize his plan, but, at the same time he also recognized that for a rare time in his life, he was at a loss for words- but not for long.
“You see,” he nostalgically reminisced, “back when I was born, my parents- God rest their souls- were poor, really poor. Well- and so- when it came to pay the bill for my birth- it was a really small town- my father gave them a debit card. But, as chance would have it, he only had slightly over half of the money due available on his card.”
With that, he stopped, looked at the aide and waited; he watched her thinking, processing, trying to figure out, make sense of what he was saying. Finally, she brought the file back up into her arms- while shaking her head, almost as if she was trying to shake loose the mental cobwebs that were actively attempting to overcome her ability to think practically and rationally- and said- in a rapid-fire way- “That’s incredible! How can something like that happen? Didn’t they have insurance?”
His head bobbed- almost mechanically- in beat with the passing of seconds and he knew that there was little time left before his chance would be eclipsed by the ‘Real Deb’ suddenly reappearing.
Quickly, now, he smiled a smile that was warmly sympathetic, then said- “You see, they wanted to name me “Debit,” but- like I said- because my father didn’t have all of the money owed, they had to settle on calling me “Deb.”
The aide shook her head in every conceivable manner, way and direction, and was poised to respond, when, off to her right came a woman walking determinedly and almost impatiently, toward her.
He, too, out of the corner of his eye watched her approach- move steadily toward them- in a kind of slow-motion sort of way, recognizing her as the ‘Real Deb,’ and knew that he had to act fast, or, otherwise, it was back to the waiting room.
So, at that fraction of a second before the ‘Real Deb’ was prepared- not to open her mouth; oh, no, her mouth was already open, it was just that the words had not yet made the “complete passage” from her brain to her vocal chords- to speak- it happened.
Suddenly, he lurched forward, unsteadily, with eyes rolled and when the aide asked him- “Are you all right?” he was only able to say-
“Ahk-eh-he-hack-spit,” through a partially open mouth as he was “making his way”- ever so carefully staged so as to avoid both real injury and “viewer-doubt”- to the hallway floor where he commenced to shaking and writhing spasmodically, while continuing to spit white, foamy saliva that went straight up and then down into his unblinking, saucer-sized eyes.
“Sir, sir- Deb!” the aide called out as she pressed the trauma response call button while kneeling down to protect his head from possible injury on the floor.
“Help is on its way,” she told him in a reassuring and professional tone.
Meanwhile, the ‘Real Deb’ watched in both horror and disbelief, while slowly stepping back ever so slightly before turning and quickly walking away from both being next in line and, ultimately, her appointment.
Within minutes, the trauma team was there- deployed in the hall- managing to get the convulsing patient, quickly, onto a gurney, to be transported- whisked-off- to the emergency room.
“Do you have his chart?” one of the team members called to the aide as they made their way down the hall, away from her.
“No,” she called back, “but I’ll get it!”
“What’s his name, then?” another team member shouted.
The aide’s response was automatic and totally without hesitation- “It’s Deb, but you can call him, John.”
Bio:John Richmond has “wandered” parts of North America for a good portion of his life. These “wanderings” have taken him from a city on the Great Lakes to a small fishing village,- with stays in Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina- then on to a larger city on the Great Lakes- Chicago- then, eventually, New York City. Most recently, John Richmond has made his way to a small upstate New York hamlet where he divides his time between writing and discussing the state of the world with his coonhound buddy, Roma.